In a literary work, film, story or other narrative, the plot is the sequence of events where each affects the next one through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from the simple—such as in a traditional ballad—to forming complex interwoven structures, with each part sometimes referred to as a subplot or imbroglio. In common usage (for example, a "movie plot"), however, it can mean a narrative summary or story synopsis, rather than a specific cause-and-effect sequence.
Plot is similar in meaning to the term storyline.In the narrative sense, the term highlights important points which have consequences within the story, according to Ansen Dibell. The term plot can also serve as a verb, referring to the writer's crafting of a plot (devising and ordering story events) or to a character's planning future actions in the story.
English novelist E. M. Forster described plot as the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. According to Forster, "The king died, and then the queen died, is a story, while The king died, and then the queen died of grief, is a plot."
Teri Shaffer Yamada agrees that a plot does not include memorable scenes within a story which do not relate directly to other events but only "major events that move the action in a narrative."For example, in the 1997 film Titanic , when Rose climbs on the railing at the front of the ship and spreads her hands as if she's flying, this scene is memorable but does not directly influence other events, so it may not be considered as part of the plot. Another example of a memorable scene which is not part of the plot occurs in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back , when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.
Consider the following:
The first event is causally related to the third event, while the second event, though descriptive, does not directly impact the outcome. As a result, according to Dibell, the plot can be described numerically as 1→3 while the story can be described as 1→2→3. A story orders events from beginning to end in a time sequence.
Steve Alcorn, a fiction-writing coach, says that the main plot elements of The Wizard of Oz are easy to find, and include:
A tornado picks up a house and drops it on a witch, a little girl meets some interesting traveling companions, a wizard sends them on a mission, and they melt a witch with a bucket of water.
The literary theory of Russian Formalism in the early 20th century divided a narrative into two elements: the fabula (фа́була) and the syuzhet (сюже́т). A fabula is the events in the fictional world, whereas a syuzhet is a perspective of those events. Formalist followers eventually translated the fabula/syuzhet to the concept of story/plot. This definition is usually used in narratology, in parallel with Forster's definition. The fabula (story) is what happened in chronological order. In contrast, the syuzhet (plot) means a unique sequence of discourse that was sorted out by the (implied) author. That is, the syuzhet can consist of picking up the fabula events in non-chronological order; for example, fabula is <a1, a2, a3, a4, a5, ..., an>, syuzhet is <a5, a1, a3>.
The Russian formalist, Viktor Shklovsky, viewed the syuzhet as the fabula defamiliarized. Defamiliarization or “making strange,” a term Shklovsky coined and popularized, upends familiar ways of presenting a story, slows down the reader's perception, and makes the story appear unfamiliar.Shklovsky cites Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy as an example of a fabula that has been defamiliarized. Sterne uses temporal displacements, digressions, and causal disruptions (for example, placing the effects before their causes) to slow down the reader's ability to reassemble the (familiar) story. As a result, the syuzhet “makes strange” the fabula.
Today screenwriters generally combine plot with plot structure into what is called a treatment, sometimes referred to as the three-act structure, in which a film is divided into three acts: the set-up, the confrontation and the resolution. Acts are connected by two plot points or turning points, with the first turning point connecting Act I to Act II, and the second connecting Act II to Act III. The conception of the three-act structure has been attributed to American screenwriter Syd Field who described plot structure in this tripartite way for film analysis.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing in the fourth century BC in his classic book The Poetics , considered plot or mythos as the most important element of drama, even more important than character.Aristotle wrote that a tragedy, a type of plot, could be divided into three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. He also believed that the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. Of the utmost importance is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience, he thought. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)
Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether the tragic character commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.
In 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German writer, advocated a model based upon Aristotle's theory of tragedy. This is now called "Freytag's pyramid," which divides a drama into five parts, and provides function to each part. These parts are: exposition (originally called introduction), rising action (rise), climax, falling action (return or fall), and denouement (catastrophe).
The first phase in Freytag's pyramid is the exposition, which introduces the characters, especially the main character, also known as the protagonist. It shows how the characters relate to one another, their goals and motivations, as well as their moral character. During the exposition, the protagonist learns their main goal and what is at stake.
Rising action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with a conflict, for example, the death of a character. The inciting incident is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. It is the event that catalyzes the protagonist to go into motion and to take action. Rising action involves the buildup of events until the climax.
In this phase, the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success and their progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase demonstrates how the protagonist overcomes these obstacles.
The climax is the turning point or highest point of the story. The protagonist makes the single big decision that defines not only the outcome of the story, but also who they are as a person. Freytag defines the climax as the third of the five dramatic phases which occupies the middle of the story.
At the beginning of this phase, the protagonist finally clears away the preliminary barriers and engages with the adversary. Usually, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other as they enter this phase. For the first time, the audience sees the pair going against one another in direct or nearly direct conflict.
This struggle usually results in neither character completely winning or losing. In most cases, each character's plan is both partially successful and partially foiled by their adversary. The central struggle between the two characters is unique in that the protagonist makes a decision which shows their moral quality, and ultimately decides their fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a poor decision or a miscalculation that demonstrates their tragic flaw.
According to Freytag, the falling action phase consists of events that lead to the ending. Character's actions resolve the problem. In the beginning of this phase, the antagonist often has the upper hand. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing their goal. The outcome depends on which side the protagonist has put themselves on.
In this phase the protagonist and antagonist have solved their problems and either the protagonist or antagonist wins the conflict. The conflict officially ends. Some stories show what happens to the characters after the conflict ends and/or they show what happens to the characters in the future.
The influential Canadian literary critic and literary theorist Northrop Frye offers two dramatic structures to analyze narratives: (1) a U-shaped pattern, which is the shape of a comedy, and (2) an inverted U-shaped pattern, which is the shape of a tragedy.
“This U-shaped pattern…recurs in literature as the standard shape of comedy, where a series of misfortunes and misunderstandings brings the action to a threateningly low point, after which some fortunate twist in the plot sends the conclusion up to a happy ending.”A U-shaped plot begins at the top of the U with a state of equilibrium, a state of prosperity or happiness, which is disrupted by disequilibrium or disaster. At the bottom of the U, the direction is reversed by a fortunate twist, divine deliverance, an awakening of the protagonist to his or her tragic circumstances, or some other action or event that results in an upward turn of the plot. Aristotle referred to the reversal of direction as peripeteia or peripety, which depends frequently on a recognition or discovery by the protagonist. Aristotle called this discovery an anagnorisis—a change from “ignorance to knowledge” involving “matters which bear on prosperity or adversity”. The protagonist recognizes something of great importance that was previously hidden or unrecognized. The reversal occurs at the bottom of the U and moves the plot upward to a new stable condition marked by prosperity, success, or happiness. At the top of the U, equilibrium is restored.
The inverted U begins with the protagonist’s rise to a position of prominence and well-being. At the top of the inverted U, the character enjoys good fortune and well-being. But a crisis or a turning point occurs, which marks the reversal of the protagonist’s fortunes and begins the descent to disaster. Sometimes a recognition scene occurs where the protagonist sees something of great importance that was previously unrecognized. The final state is disaster and adversity, the bottom of the inverted U.
A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story. It is often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with dramatic technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-developed reasons. An example of a plot device would be when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle. In contrast, an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself and saves the day due to a change of heart would be considered dramatic technique.
Familiar types of plot devices include the deus ex machina , the MacGuffin, the red herring, and Chekhov's gun.
A plot outline is a prose telling of a story which can be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes it is called a "one page" because of its length. It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis, which is usually only one or two paragraphs, but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. In comics, the roughs refer to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development. This stage is also referred to as storyboarding or layouts. In Japanese manga, this stage is called the nemu (pronounced like the English word "name"). The roughs are quick sketches arranged within a suggested page layout. The main goals of roughs are to:
In fiction writing, a plot outline is a laundry list of scenes with each line being a separate plot point, and the outline helps give a story a "solid backbone and structure".
An A-Plot is a cinema and television term referring to the plotline that drives the story. This does not necessarily mean it is the most important, but rather the one that forces most of the action.
A plot summary is a brief description of a piece of literature that explains what happens. In a plot summary, the author and title of the book should be referred to and it is usually no more than a paragraph long while summarizing the main points of the story.
Plot is built of significant events in a given story – significant because they have important consequences. Taking a shower isn't necessarily plot... Let's call them incidents ... Plot is the things characters do, feel, think or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.
In fiction, a character is a person or other being in a narrative. The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life person, in which case the distinction of a "fictional" versus "real" character may be made. Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person". In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.
Defamiliarization or ostranenie is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way so they could gain new perspectives and see the world differently. According to the Russian formalists who coined the term, it is the central concept of art and poetry. The concept has influenced 20th-century art and theory, ranging over movements including Dada, postmodernism, epic theatre, science fiction, and philosophy; additionally, it is used as a tactic by recent movements such as culture jamming.
Dramaturgy is the study of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage.
Diegesis is a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which:
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory and first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory. In this text Aristotle offers an account of ποιητική, which refers to poetry or more literally "the poetic art," deriving from the term for "poet; author; maker," ποιητής. Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama, lyric poetry, and epic. The genres all share the function of mimesis, or imitation of life, but differ in three ways that Aristotle describes:
Russian formalism was a school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky, Grigory Gukovsky who revolutionised literary criticism between 1914 and the 1930s by establishing the specificity and autonomy of poetic language and literature. Russian formalism exerted a major influence on thinkers like Mikhail Bakhtin and Yuri Lotman, and on structuralism as a whole. The movement's members had a relevant influence on modern literary criticism, as it developed in the structuralist and post-structuralist periods. Under Stalin it became a pejorative term for elitist art.
Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky was a Russian and Soviet literary theorist, critic, writer, and pamphleteer. He is one of the major figures associated with Russian formalism.
Narrative structure is a literary element generally described as the structural framework that underlies the order and manner in which a narrative is presented to a reader, listener, or viewer. The narrative text structures are the plot and the setting.
In works of narrative, conflict is the challenge main characters need to solve to achieve their goals.
Narratology is the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect human perception. It is an anglicisation of French narratologie, coined by Tzvetan Todorov. Its theoretical lineage is traceable to Aristotle (Poetics) but modern narratology is agreed to have begun with the Russian Formalists, particularly Vladimir Propp, and Mikhail Bakhtin's theories of heteroglossia, dialogism, and the chronotope first presented in The Dialogic Imagination (1975).
Dramatic structure is the structure of a dramatic work such as a play or film. Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics. This article looks at Aristotle's analysis of the Greek tragedy and on Gustav Freytag's analysis of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama. Northrop Frye also offers a dramatic structure for the analysis of narratives: an inverted U-shaped plot structure for tragedies and a U-shaped plot structure for comedies.
The distancing effect, more commonly known (earlier) by John Willett's 1964 translation as the alienation effect or as the estrangement effect, is a performing arts concept coined by German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956).
An act is a major division of a theatre work, including a play, film, opera, or musical theatre, consisting of one or more scenes. The term can either refer to a conscious division placed within a work by a playwright or a unit of analysis for dividing a dramatic work into sequences. As applied, those definitions may or may not align. The word act can also be used for major sections of other entertainment, such as variety shows, television programs, music hall performances, cabaret, and literature.
Formalism is a school of literary criticism and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text. It is the study of a text without taking into account any outside influence. Formalism rejects or sometimes simply "brackets" notions of culture or societal influence, authorship, and content, and instead focuses on modes, genres, discourse, and forms.
Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. Narrative theory is a means by which we can comprehend how we impose order on our experiences and actions by giving them a narrative form. According to Walter Fisher, narratives are fundamental to communication and provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings (58). Fisher defines narratives as "symbolic actions-words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them." Study of narrative criticism, therefore, includes form, genre, structure characterization, and communicator's perspective.
A narrative thread, or plot thread, refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters rather than to relate a matter in a dry "all-knowing" sort of narration. Thus the narrative threads experienced by different but specific characters or sets of characters are those seen in the eyes of those characters that together form a plot element or subplot in the work of fiction. In this sense, each narrative thread is the narrative portion of a work that pertains to the world view of the participating characters cognizant of their piece of the whole, and they may be the villains, the protagonists, a supporting character, or a relatively disinterested official utilized by the author, each thread of which is woven together by the writer to create a work.
Fabula and syuzhet are terms originating in Russian formalism and employed in narratology that describe narrative construction. Syuzhet is an employment of narrative and fabula is the chronological order of the events contained in the story. They were first used in this sense by Vladimir Propp and Viktor Shklovsky.
The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. It has been described in different ways by Aelius Donatus in the fourth century A.D. and by Syd Field in his 1979 book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.
Literariness is the organisation of language which through special linguistic and formal properties distinguishes literary texts from non-literary texts. The defining features of a literary work do not reside in extraliterary conditions such as history or sociocultural phenomena under which a literary text might have been created but in the form of the language that is used. Thus, literariness is defined as being the feature that makes a given work a literary work. It distinguishes a literary work from ordinary texts by using certain artistic devices such as metre, rhyme, and other patterns of sound and repetition.
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